Diversity DIY: How gal-dem is championing new voices

We’ve heard a lot of talk about the need for more diversity in the media and creative industries, but real change remains slow. Liv Little and her editorial team at magazine gal-dem have opted to do it for themselves, creating a fresh new media outlet in the process

Gal-dem is a website mixing opinion pieces, interviews and reviews across politics, music, lifestyle and the arts. What sets it apart from all the other sites offering this kind of content, however, is its perspective: with an editorial team of mainly young women of colour, gal-dem is allowing voices that are largely unheard in the wider media take centre stage.

The magazine (which also publishes an annual print mag each September, to celebrate gal-dem’s birthday) was founded by Liv Little in 2016 while she was studying politics and sociology at the University of Bristol. “It was really born out of a desire to talk about issues in a less academic setting and a more relatable way,” she says. “But also to connect with other women and people of colour because there weren’t many of us at Bristol when I was studying there.

“I put out calls on the internet and found some really incredible women who were doing really incredible work in their own right. The initial team has obviously shifted and changed but it was through the internet that I was able to find these people because I didn’t even know they existed.”

Cover for the 2016 issue of gal-dem’s annual print magazine. Each issue is published in September to celebrate gal-dem’s birthday

From the outset, Little was keen to offer a platform for journalists of colour to talk about whatever interested them. “It’s quite stereotypical when you work in media environments, you’re expected to be the voice that talks about all things related to race and gender, but actually the scope of things that we want to talk about is not pertaining to just those things – it’s demonstrating that women of colour should be able to have a voice on all topics and anything that interests them. That was something that lots of people could relate to.”

A glance through the Opinion section of the site immediately highlights gal-dem’s point of difference. The subjects discussed are a mix of serious, topical, and entertaining; they often do have a slant related to race or feminism (the top stories as I write address women commentating on the football; the use of the “it was a joke” defence when someone commits an act of casual racism or sexism; and how offensive the ads during Love Island are to women) but are pitched at a wide audience. Like other newish magazines such as Riposte or The Pool, they are offering an alternative to the typical presentation of women’s voices in the media. But here, importantly, there is the additional aspect of race, a point of view that is still rarely heard even in the more progressive women’s publications.

“The audience is young, it’s predominantly 16-34, it’s 70% women, 30% men,” says Little. “I’m sure it speaks more to women of colour than to other demographics by the mere fact that we’re the ones producing the content but it’s really important for us, and has been from the beginning, that it’s not just speaking to people who come from that demographic or maybe who agree with certain views and things we express. I think it’s really important in pushing for change that you engage with people that you wouldn’t ordinarily engage with. We know that it’s not just us who are reading our content, which is great.”

Cover of the 2017 issue of gal-dem’s print magazine

Gal-dem has expanded into the offline world with events, including takeovers at the V&A as part of its Friday Late series, where Little and other editors celebrated the work of designers and musicians while also holding talks and workshops addressing issues such as diversity in the media. “People want to engage in real life just as much as they want to develop a community and engage and connect online,” says Little.

Of the diversity question however, she expresses a weariness of all talk and no action, while acknowledging that she does see the conversation shifting, and “it seems like the conversation has been shifting for a while”.

“But I get quite bored of conversations,” she continues. “On a personal level I’ve vowed to not engage massively in those conversations in corporate settings on panels and talks and stuff. I’m more interested in action. In what’s actually happening around it, because I feel like we can only talk and advise and say that you need to hire more people of colour, or you need to engage us in the decision-making process, so many times. People actually have to start doing it. I think often these kind of things are very much for show.”

Gal-dem’s distinct point of view has proven attractive to brands, who want to find ways to connect to the magazine’s audience. “Brands maybe struggle to reach our audience authentically,” says Little. “I think it’s important for them to work with people who are a part of the audiences that they want to target. I think that’s how you avoid having campaigns which massively miss the mark. For us, we are our audience, we’re creating content for our audience, rather than having some 50-year-old white guy telling us what it is that we should be interested in or what it is that we want.

“And we’ve created something which is fun, it’s celebratory, it’s something that everyone can engage with, and I think that is something that appeals to brands,” she continues. “We know the tone of our audience inside and out and they can sense inauthenticity from a mile off. I think that’s probably why lots of brands approach us and want to work with us.”

Little cites brands including Monki and Lush as ones that she sees as sharing gal-dem’s ethos and brand values, and which are trying to talk to their audience in a way that isn’t superficial. Of the way diversity has been expressed in wider advertising campaigns, she cites Nike’s Nobody Beats a LNDR as an example of totally getting it right.

“The success of it came in the fact that they were speaking to a niche demographic – if you were a Londoner and grew up in London you could identify with those places and that made it brilliant. I think brands have to not be scared to tap into what they would describe as niche demographics because that’s how you build something special. That’s why gal-dem is so special.

“You do see campaigns that really hit the mark,” she continues. “You also see a lot of campaigns that really miss the mark. Puma did a thing recently where they held a party in a fake ‘trap house’ … they clearly missed the mark and were glamourising working class culture in a way that isn’t good.”

Liv Little, who first founded gal-dem when she was a student at Bristol University. She is also one of CR’s Creative Leaders 50

Gal-dem is about to hold its first investment round, having been run so far off the back of advertising and sponsorship from brands and a lot of love and passion by its contributors (Little only began working on it full-time at the start of this year, having run it alongside a full-time job in TV up until then).

While right now it is getting attention in part due to its fresh perspective, Little definitely sees it as having an audience that can grow. “I see it having a very similar model to magazines like Dazed and maybe Vice, when it first started and before it swallowed itself,” she says. “That’s the commercial model anyway, so there’s definitely scalability.”

gal-dem.com; Read more about Liv Little here 

JUNIOR GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Milton Keynes